Images of cyclists from the early days of the bicycle.

Lyrical Engravings of Cyclists’ Adventures During The Sport’s Earliest Days

Lyrical Engravings of Cyclists’ Adventures During The Sport’s Earliest Days

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Oct. 28 2015 11:50 AM

Lyrical Engravings of Cyclists’ Adventures During The Sport’s Earliest Days

In a new book, Old Wheelways: Traces of Bicycle History on the Land, historian Robert L. McCullough writes about cyclists' explorations of the American landscape in the late 19th century. The book is filled with engravings that originally appeared in cycling publications like The Wheelman and Outing, cataloging the social world of bicycle enthusiasts, along with the landscapes and infrastructure that adventuresome cyclists observed on their treks through countrysides and cities. 

The process of wood engraving, which calls for an illustration to be carved into a block of hardwood using a special set of tools, allowed for cheap and quick reproduction of images in 19th-century magazines and newspapers. Most of the magazine illustrations in McCullough's book are wood engravings, made at the technique's heyday. Wood engraving, writes curator Nancy E. Green, became less popular in commercial printing near the end of the 19th century, "replaced by photography, a much quicker and more efficient process." 

More than a few of the engravings below come from illustrations by the then-twentysomething artist F. Childe Hassam. Hassam was later to drop the "F" and become a painter, evolving into the most influential practitioner of Impressionism in the United States. His cycling illustrations have a beautiful, dreamy quality that foreshadows his later work. 

ByTheRoadside
"By the Roadside," wood engraving by H.E. Sylvester after a painting or drawing by F. Childe Hassam for The Wheelman (September 1883).

MIT Press

1.8
"Boulevard Saint Martin (Paris), in 1863." A wood engraving by H.E. Sylvester for The Wheelman (October 1883), after an 1868 drawing or painting by John W. Dunsmore.

MIT Press

2
F. Childe Hassam illustration for The Wheelman, February 1883.

MIT Press

2.2
"Halt to Catch Up," a wood engraving after a drawing by Allen C. Redwood for the article "A Wheel Around the Hub," first published in Scribner's Monthly (February 1880) and republished in the inaugural issue of The Wheelman (October 1882).

MIT Press

2.3
"Old House on the 'Neck,'" a pen and ink drawing or etching by John Arthur Fraser, reproduced for Outing (September 1885).

MIT Press

2.4
"Cabin John Bridge," a wood engraving by H.E. Sylvester after a drawing or painting by Francis D. Noyes for The Wheelman (November 1883).

MIT Press

3.2
Frank Hamilton Taylor, illustration of a tollhouse on the Montgomery Pike, reproduced in his 1896 book, Cyclers' and Drivers' Best Routes In and Around Philadelphia (possibly as a photoengraving).

MIT Press

3.6
"The Run in Fairmount Park, Bi-Centennial Meet," H.E. Sylvester engraving of a Philadelphia bicycle meet, after a drawing or painting by F. Childe Hassam, for The Wheelman (July 1883).

MIT Press

3.8
A drawing or painting titled "Claremont Hill—Riverside Drive, New York," F. Childe Hassam, reproduced in Scribner's Magazine (June 1895).

University of Vermont Libraries/MIT Press

4.4
Cyclist and writer Thomas Stevens in California tule grass marshes at dusk. Engraving by H.E. Sylvester after a drawing by William A. Rogers for Outing (April 1885).

MIT Press

4.5
"Going Straight Through the Mountain": cyclist at the entrance to the Paw Paw Tunnel on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Wood engraving by Robert Hoskin after a photograph by Frank Lenz for Outing (August 1892).

MIT Press